Impact of the Family on the Sex Lives of Adolescents

By Pick, Susan; Palos, Patricia Andrade | Adolescence, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Impact of the Family on the Sex Lives of Adolescents


Pick, Susan, Palos, Patricia Andrade, Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

Communication between parents and children about sexual themes is of great concern. It has been found that sexually active youth who use contraceptives have significantly better communication with their parents than do those who are sexually active but do not use contraceptives (Handelsman, Cabral, & Weisfeld, 1987; Fisher, 1987).

A study by Vance (1985) found several causes of adolescent pregnancy and indicated that probably the most influential factor was unsatisfactory interpersonal relations with family members (in addition to the absence of adequate information). Further, a study by Ostrov, Offer, Howard, and Kaufman (1985) found that sexual activity is clearly related to psychosocial factors of home life, scholastic performance, and dating habits.

A study by Abramson, Moriuchi, Waite, and Perry (1983) indicated that sexual expression is very closely related to culture, in particular to what is considered proper, and found that parents' attitudes and experiences have a significant influence on the transmission of prescribed cultural norms. In addition, Handelsman et al. (1987) concluded that cultural inhibitions and puritanical attitudes are obstacles to open discussion of sexual themes with adults (principally parents and teachers). This last point is particularly important in Mexican society where traditional conservative values prevail (Diaz-Guerrero, 1986).

However, some authors (Walters & Walters, 1983) have concluded that the family has a limited influence on children's attitudes and sexual behavior, precisely because there is little discussion, poor perceptions, and because the parents are only one source of information.

These studies indicate the importance of further exploring the family's influence on attitudes and behavior related to sexuality, emphasizing that the parents: (1) need to think carefully about their own attitudes and what they want to transmit to their children; (2) should know clearly if their intentions match their attitudes; (3) need to talk more openly about sex; (4) need to resist the tendency to be afraid of what their children may hear; and (5) must recognize that they are only one source of information for their children.

Among the most common problems in parent-child communication concerning sex are embarrassment, lack of knowledge, poorly defined values, fear of encouraging sexual activity, and inability to initiate and maintain a conversation about the subject (Fitzgerald & Fitzgerald, 1987). Other studies (Abramson et al., 1983) found that parents' educational level and religiosity affect communication.

Given the importance of the family in the Mexican culture and the increase in adolescents' sexual activity, the objective of this article is to show the role the family plays in the sex lives of adolescents by presenting the results of three studies with adolescents carried out in Mexico.

FIRST STUDY

The analyses presented here were part of the investigation entitled: "Adolescents in Mexico City: A Psychosocial Study of Contraceptive Practices and Unwanted Pregnancy" (Pick de Weiss, Diaz-Loving, Andrade Palos, & Atkin, 1988). The objective was to compare female adolescents who had begun sexual relations to those who had not, those who had used contraceptives to those who had not, and those who had gotten pregnant to those who had not.

A representative sample comprised of 1,257 adolescents was used. All subjects were female, between the ages of 12 and 19, and in low and low-middle socioeconomic categories (based on a marketing map, BIMSA, 1982). The instruments used to measure the variables were derived from closed questionnaires developed and validated for Mexican adolescents. Among the variables analyzed were the family structure (who raised the adolescent, presence of premarital pregnancy of either the mother or a sister) and relationships with the family (perception of the quality of the relationship with the father and mother and frequency of communication concerning problems in general and specifically concerning sex). …

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